Making strides in your personal fitness is great. Training consistently without injury is even better. Consistency is the key to drastic and lasting change in performance and body composition. However, it just so happens that there are a lot of things in life that can disrupt consistency. Family, work commutes, and social gatherings can overthrow your schedule suddenly, leaving you with little time to get to the gym. But the biggest threat to consistency in the gym is an injury.
By “injury” we don't mean the aches and muscle soreness that come with pushing yourself physically. We mean acute or chronic injuries to ligaments, tendons or muscles that require significant attention and time to heal. Although resting to heal an injury is necessary, the rest of your physique often times suffers: the lungs return to stasis, muscle deteriorates and fat is stored.
Fortunately, you can protect your muscle and joints from these types of injuries by taking pre-habilitative steps before and after workouts. A few of these tactics can even improve your performance.
Stop Static Stretching
Static stretching used to be the IT warm up! However, recent studies are showing that static stretching before physical activity is not good for the body. Dynamic stretching, or range of motion exercises that stimulate the nervous system, elevate your body’s core temperature and prepare your joints and muscles, is suggested.
Dynamic stretching routines vary but you should shoot for 3-5 minutes of a series of activities that increase in intensity, for example, jog in place, jumping jacks, high knee running, body weight squats to full body weight squats. Not only should your muscle feel warm but your heart rate should be elevated.
Roll It Out
Foam rolling or light massage is key to muscle recovery and keeping your connective tissue healthy. Most gyms have high-density foam rollers available for personal use! With a foam roller, rub out knots or area of tension in aching muscles (this process is formally known as myofascial release). Although this may be painful at first, it is one of the best ways to warm up (or cool down) your muscles and tendons before a workout.
Rest When You Need To
Amidst our excitement for getting fit, we sometimes ignore what our bodies try and tell us. Although maintaining consistency is the goal, tempering your initial efforts to push yourself through an injury is sometimes the only way to protect gradual progression. That being said, if you are just dealing with muscle soreness, it is important for your muscle to rest in between workouts (48-72 hours). Muscle stimulation is key to forwarding progress, not total annihilation. Last but not least, you need at least 9 hours of sleep a night! If you are getting less, understand that you may be compromising your central nervous system’s ability to recruit the right muscles during a workout, which is the fastest way to injure yourself.
Forward progress is all about consistency. That being said, in order to establish consistency, you have to be healthy! Do what it takes to stay healthy and strong. Compromising your health just to make it to the gym each day will not help you reach the fitness goal you are hoping to achieve.